Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Arthur Silber on the Russkie spies:
To return to Limbaugh's amazement that the evil Russians would feel a need to spy on the noble Americans: yeah, that's a tough one. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that by means of NATO expansion on one side, and permanent (or at least decades-long) occupations on another, the U.S. is intentionally engaged in an encirclement of Russia. An encirclement that happens to involve deployments of large numbers of troops, plus weapons of all kinds.
This is of course exceptionally obvious. I've often thought, while looking at the globe on my dresser that so handsomely complements the color I just recently painted my bedroom walls, about how painfully obvious it is. All you have to do is just that: look at a globe, or a map.

But many painfully obvious facts, which anyone can discover by thinking about them for half a second, are not actually obvious. The geographical facts of our empire are not obvious. It is not obvious that wealth funnels upwards, not downwards. It is not obvious that rulers have more power than people living in poverty. It is not obvious that a history, and contemporary reality, of slavery and genocide and empire means that America is not a force for good in the world. It is not obvious that each instance of a crooked corporation, or an overzealously sadistic soldier, or a bad president, is not just a "bad apple" but is in fact the system operating as it is intended to. It is not obvious that one should never make excuses for power.

Of course these facts are not obvious; if they were, more people would understand them!

There is always a concerted effort by those in power to create a culture in which these truths are not, as someone once said about something, self-evident. Conditioning begins, essentially, at birth. The ability that some people (I like to think I am one of these people; please let me know if you disagree with this assessment) have to see past this conditioning is not a mark of superiority, rather it is a mark of luck in intellectual development (whether this "luck" was lucky in any other sense obviously varies from individual to individual; for example, I come by my worldview by virtue of having wonderful parents and happening to have read good books in my teen years, while others have them by virtue of being victimized from childhood).

But this is why it's important to keep saying all these obvious things. John Caruso recently posted about a mind that encountered someone (Chomsky, in this case) saying the obvious right at the moment when he was primed to be responsive to it, and the difference that it made. My own mind, made receptive to obvious facts by the upbringing I just summarized, finally made a definitive leap into reality with the help, primarily, of Jon Schwarz and the 2006 congress (somewhat analogous to the carrot and the stick, respectively). You never know when it might work, for whom.


Bolo said...

Yep, it's definitely luck. Luck and curiosity/intellectual motivation. But the motivation and curiosity is only necessary, not sufficient. Something needs to catch your attention and set you off on the path.

I was raised in a house that basically didn't talk politics at all. My dad is an accountant/business exec., my mom stayed at home, and I don't recall ever hearing them talk about politics or social issues or etc. We were nominally centrist Republicans I think. Then during college I happened to chat with someone about the Bush admin. while playing an online game, which led to some intense internet searches, reading blogs, reading books, etc. I became a very partisan liberal Dem. for a year or two, then started cooling off and have been clawing my way to my current views for several years since then. (Current views are roughly in line with yours and those of Ian Welsh, Chris Floyd, Arthur Silber, etc.).

My wife's family is much more intellectually open and curious. Her dad is basically a communist (or at least, anti-capitalist) who works for the postal union and her mom is sharp as a tack and works in a job placement agency. I have discussions with them that I could never have with my own parents. Basically, it took me years to learn the "obvious" things you mention in your post, whereas my wife was brought up with full knowledge and recognition of many of them.

So I guess luck also partially entails who your parents are (in this, as in everything else).

Ethan said...

Thanks for that, Bolo. I really like hearing people's personal narratives like that.

the motivation and curiosity is only necessary, not sufficient

I like this distinction.

M said...

Interesting post, very interesting, got me thinking... I may write a post about this on my blog, as I'm also thinking about some personal experiences ...

Btw, I wanted to ask you, Ethan - what is that picture you have as your Blogger photo? It reminds me so much of ice geysers from a Saturn's moon that I saw in a documentary recently... What is it exactly?

Ethan said...

Glad you liked it, ASP! I look forward to reading your thoughts on the matter, whenever you're able to get them written up.

You're right about the blogger photo--it's the plumes from Saturn's moon Enceladus (obviously color-enhanced). The full size version is on NASA's website here. I love space.

M said...

Oh, so it is what I thought, awesome.

I also love space. I wanted to be an astrophysicist actually (I was good at maths and physics when I was a kid), alas, life* took me on another journey.

*parents and a war

Ethan said...

Any chance/desire to pick it back up?

Justin said...

Well, here goes mine. Similar to others.

I grew up rural poor, broken family. We literally ate snakes we found in the yard and deer roadkill if it was fresh. When I was a kid, that never seemed amiss, it just was something we did. Almost everyone I knew received food assistance, lots of kids I went to school with were homeless. I would by no means say we were victimized, or at least I didn't grow up with a feeling that we were being taken advantage of and someone owed me something, but you get a certain perspective and sympathies just from being in that environment.

I was also blessed with people around me that encouraged me to think critically and I had an aptitude for reading and questioning things. So all of that I suppose prepared me to kind of look deeper into things and start seeing the obviousness of things that are obscured by nationalist feelings or prevailing norms for what is acceptable.

I went after all of that in a big way when the Bush Administration starting going after Iraq. I had a sense that something was amiss in what they were saying, and knew enough history about the U.S. to recognize that their narcissistic rhetoric about how great a nation we are seemed like what most obnoxious arrogance is, insecurity about a much frailer, uglier truth.

From there I read, researched, and talked to others. I was pretty single minded for a few years and read hundreds if not thousands of books. I remember that I used to read standing up at night so I wouldn't get sleepy and could stay alert. Kinda funny.

Chomsky was probably the best intellectual self-defense course there is and, really, read enough of him and the things you are talking about that are obvious but not obvious begin jumping out at you. If you haven't delved into his canon and have any interest, I could make some recommendations of what I think are his real key contributions.

Ethan said...

Justin, thank you. I wish I had an eighth of the discipline you have.

On the word "victimized," it's a vague and amorphous word, and probably loaded enough that I shouldn't have used it. I think to a certain extent all of us, particularly those in poverty, are victimized by the upper classes, but of course when you say someone is victimized, it's almost like demanding them to feel like a victim, which I would not want to do. "Placed in an absolutely shitty position by the actions of others" is a more wordy but probably better stand-in.

M said...

Any chance/desire to pick it back up?

There's not much chance, my level of knowledge is pretty low now and the work required to elevate it to any substantial level is not something I would have the time for, or energy probably. Even if I were to try, the science field in Croatia doesn't offer many job opportunities or much incentives for scientists (we invest much too little in science and research) and actually many young scientists and recent graduates emigrate in order to pursue careers in science... (There was an article few years back that said about 20% of Croatians with a university degree live abroad, I doubt the trends have changed in the mean time.)

Justin said...

To add to the libblogosphere pile-on, I'd add that I have started reading Digby frequently since you and others have begun calling attention to her. I am frankly amazed at some of the zany rationalizations that go on there. There is this, today, where she argues that the current Democratic party led government is singularly cruel in living memory. I'd written about a previous post, here, where she defended her lesser of two evils party support for Democrats on the grounds that if Republicans take any power in Congress, they will investigate and use subpoenas to check the power of the presidency, which she thinks is a bad thing.

It's just bizarre to me.

Ethan said...

ASP, there's always the dedicated hobbyist option if it appeals at all! I occasionally try to reeducate myself in math and science, which never lasts all that long, but one of these days...

Justin, I saw both of digby's posts as well as your excellent one. The hilarious contradiction between her two essays, each misguided in its own ways on its own, hadn't consciously occurred to me, so thanks for that laugh (or, you know, snort of bemused puzzlement, but whatever, it's the internet).

digby's a bit of a mess, though she occasionally shows flashes of awareness that I wish she would figure out how to piece together, like the example I pointed out in my brief follow-up to this post. Mainstream liberalism is such an incoherent philosophy that it is a complete mystery to me even though I subscribed to it myself only a few years ago.

M said...

ASP, there's always the dedicated hobbyist option if it appeals at all! I occasionally try to reeducate myself in math and science, which never lasts all that long, but one of these days...

More or less all I have time for now is just reading science blogs and popular science books. But I'm planing on saving money, and then when I retire I'm going to buy a small telescope, and spend the rest of my days staring at the sky looking for asteroids, or something... :D